Hailie Deegan continues to make NASCAR history and headlines.
The 17-year-old California native wrapped up her inaugural NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season with a sixth-place finish last weekend at Kern County Speedway. A finish that put the finishing touches on Deegan’s Rookie of the Year season.
In 14 starts, Deegan earned 12 top-10 and five top-five finishes as well as one monumental victory; when Deegan captured the checkered flag at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway last month she became the first female to win a NASCAR K&N race.
Deegan isn’t slowing down, however. This week she’s at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas on behalf of sponsor Mobil 1, and for those in attendance, featured in the Mobil 1 booth is her 2019 Toyota Tacoma build, which is inspired by the Tacoma she drives daily.
During a break in activity, Deegan spent time catching up with RACER.
Q: How would you sum up this past season?
HD: This past year has been my dream season. Bill McAnally took a chance on me, and we accomplished a lot – everything I wanted to get done we did. My first goal was to get a pole and then win a race, then get rookie of the year. We accomplished everything I wanted to do. The last race at Kern County, my last goal was to wrap up rookie of the year and lead more laps, which we did both of those. So, I was super pumped at the end of the season … [Kern County] was a good race and we showed we could run up front for a long period of time. I’m happy with this year; definitely everything I wanted to do happened. It was good.
Q: You said that Bill McAnally took a chance on you. How did you get connected with his race team?
HD: I think it was around last year probably around this time, Toyota sent me over to Bill McAnally, and we did a test at Irwindale, and Bill sought me out, saw my driving and was like, hey, we want you to race for us next year full-time in the West Series. I’d never driven a K&N car; I had done a couple of late model races at Madera [Speedway] before this, and so I didn’t have a lot of experience in a stock car. He’s the one that kept the ball rolling – them and the Toyota Racing Development program.
Q: The checklist of goals you wanted to accomplish — was that a physical list or just things you knew coming into the year you wanted to achieve?
HD: I had my checklist in the notes on my phone. In the beginning of the year my dad — because we always make goals throughout the year, we’ll write them down and stuff — he was like, it would be cool if you made a checklist, and I thought that was a really good idea. At the beginning of the year, I did that, and my first goal was to get a top 10 [finish], which we did that in the first race [in Bakersfield]. Then qualify in the top five. Finish in the top five. And we kept knocking those off and especially midway through the season that’s when the ball really started rolling and every race we were checking off a goal. It was a successful thing making that checklist because I could see the progress I was making, and how quick the ball was rolling.
Q: Your name has certainly been mentioned quite a lot this year, and that comes with expectations and chatter about your career and future, so I’m curious if you’ve found it hard to focus on racing when so much attention has been pushed your way?
HD: This year has been great. In the end, I put my racing as priority and it comes down to results. If you can perform and get the results, everything else will come. So, I don’t really focus as media as my number one thing. I focus on my driving and getting the results, and the media will come. And it has. I think that right now if I keep training, keep working hard, the media is going to be there, but it’s definitely good to be involved with the media and be in the media’s eyes because that gets to the fans, the sponsors, and it makes you valuable. It puts a number on you so people want to partner with you so you can go racing more.
HD: You see a lot of drivers they think it’s just a weekend thing — I’m going to go race every three weeks, two weeks in the K&N Series and it’s going to be enough. But it’s not. In the end, if you want to win it’s an everyday thing. I got to go-kart before every single K&N race. I go at least two, three times a week, and practice at my house in my truck, in my Razor. Anything that I can drive that I know will help me, I drive. Any opportunity I get, which even if it’s six o’clock at night, my dad and I will go water the track and drive on our dirt oval track. I’ll get up in the morning and go work out and then head to the go-kart track and stay there until it gets dark. Just practicing with anything I can get in to drive … I know anything will help me. The more laps I can get in, the more different cars I can get in, is just another tool in the toolbox that will help me in stock car racing.
Q: Dirt is your background and you mentioned still running on dirt. How is that helping you now on pavement?
HD: All these other racers, they’ve been racing stock cars their whole life. Ever since they were about my age starting in racing, they’ve been on pavement. My first full year of pavement was last year. So, I think the reason why I’ve been able to excel at the rate I have is because of off-road racing, how aggressive it is, how up on the wheel you have to be. You’re not laid back. It’s never, like, casual running laps; it’s hardcore racing, and everyone is really aggressive. I think that’s why coming into the K&N Series; we’ve been able to excel, me and my team, really quick.
Q: Do you know what your 2019 plans are?
HD: Not yet. If I had like my dream possibility, unlimited funding type of thing, I’d like to do full-time K&N because I’m not old enough to run Trucks or ARCA full-time yet. So I would like to do full-time K&N West and East and then partial ARCA. That would be my dream scenario, but depending how funding comes in depends what we’re doing.